Sunday, 26 October 2014

Desperate Days

From almost the very start the Nats have understood the new politics of post devolution Scotland much better than us.

I say “almost” because at the very start the Nats didn’t.

They fought the 1999 election on a platform of bare coherence. Never mind the electorate not understanding what a SNP victory in that contest might mean, the SNP  didn’t have a lot of idea themselves.  It would have meant some sort of Independecy thing but as to the conduct of the day to day administration of Scotland in the meantime? No idea.

The Labour Party, on the other hand, was the Labour Party. Perhaps not very exciting but with generations of experience of running Local Government and the wider local state: Health Boards; Universities: Quangos and voluntary organisations large and small. All experience immediately available. And if that was not enough, also immediately available, patently sensible leadership in the personification of big Donald himself.

Looking back it was only our own self denying ordinance of a system designed to ensure there never being an absolute majority for any Party at Holyrood which prevented that very occurrence.

Anyway, what did that matter when we had the Libs?

So we were in power, the Libs were in power of sorts and all was well with the world. Or at least our wee bit of it.

Except that the SNP learned from experience.

John Swinney was at one time a much derided figure. He took over from Eck version one, struggled to make any real public impact and eventually resigned after the 2003 election having lost further ground from an initially losing position.

But Swinney had one major achievement. He turned the SNP into a serious Party of Government. At least in aspiration.

By 2003 you understood what an SNP administration at Holyrood would mean and that it didn’t mean immediate insurrection. And you understood, crucially, that it would mean at least as basically a competent administration as the Labour Party could bring.

The chip on both shoulders brigade would still be accommodated within the SNP, for they still constituted the bulk of the foot soldiers, but they would no longer call all of the shots.

Meanwhile the Scottish Labour Party moved in the opposite direction.

When we thought we had a serious battle against the Tories we deployed serious forces. If you look at who picked up the spoils of the Scottish Tory collapse consider who they were: Sam Galbraith; Brian Wilson; Anne McGuire; Anne Begg. At the point of ultimate triumph Jim Murphy.

Even our bitterest opponents would concede that these are not exactly lobby fodder.

But in the context of the Scottish Parliament we didn’t need such considerations. We’d be in power forever so why not share out the spoils with the faithful irrespective of talent? We were surely never going to lose any of these safe seats.

So between 1999 and 2011 virtually every vacancy that arose on the Labour benches was filled, or anticipated to be filled, by an undistinguished former local councillor who secured selection in their own home constituency despite having not the remotest prospect of being selected in a million years in any other.

The key phrase above is “anticipated to be filled”.  For, time and time again, the electorate, even the traditionally Labour electorate, responded that if this was the best we could offer........

Not that we noticed.

Meanwhile the Nats moved in one other vital respect in the other direction.

In 2007 every ballot paper across Scotland read “[Insert name here] SNP. Alex Salmond for First Minister.”

Now, I don’t like Mr Salmond but I recognise that he is a politician of the first rank.

But more importantly the Nats had recognised that.  If you didn’t have strength in depth then you looked to where you did have strength. And Mr Salmond was that strength.

We on the other hand offered Jack as no more than our leader of the moment and, after Wendy fell, essentially suggested to the electorate that our (and potentially their) momentary leader was a matter that they should leave up to us.  

So we end up where we are.

But let us (Eck aside) conduct a public recognition contest about the 2016 Scottish Parliament Election.

And, having thought about it briefly,  let us concede that based on current Holyrood runners and riders it would be a bit like when Shergar ran in the Derby and the bookies offered odds on who would be second.

I might not like Nicola much more than Eck but.......

So where does that leave the Scottish Labour Party following Johann’s departure?

Well, first of all, it does not leave us in a situation the remaining 36 of them are free to fight  it out between themselves. Much as they did in 2011, the 36 will argue that’s what should happen for who would turn down a 36/1 chance of being First Minister?

Except, I’m sorry, not one of the 36 has the remotest chance of being elected First Minister in May 2016. Some might have missed their chance, others might yet have their chance to come. But if any one of them is offered as the option in May 2016............. we might as well save the Party and the Country some money by cancelling the election altogether.

I have no idea why the Scottish Executive took a paniced decision today to hold a leadership election on a truncated time scale and under a discredited electoral system. They might not have noticed but the referendum is over and there is no Scottish Parliament election for eighteen months. We could easily have allowed Anas to act pro tem and elected a temporary "group leader" at Holyrood.

That would have allowed us to think at least one move ahead. Instead, what would someone not currently at Holyrood be expected to do at the General Election next May if they became leader of the Scottish Party? Leave any elected office for a year?  Stand for Westminster for twelve months and hope the parliamentary arithmetic doesn't require their regular attendance? Try to get into Holyrood in an engineered by-election and risk defeat in the process? 

None of these matters appear to have been given the slightest thought. But I suppose that is par for the current course. 

But what is done appears to be what is done. 

And so I end with a blunt but obvious statement. We need a leader with some idea (any idea) of what to do and one who has even a remote prospect of becoming First Minister in 2016.

It pains me to say it but only one conceivable candidate ticks both these boxes.

And thus although he and I come from different wings of our Party I am left with one inevitable conclusion.

Give me Murphy or give me death.

6 comments:

  1. Surely to give you Murphy - a neocon with a long history of warmongering and engagement with the arms industry - is unquestionably to give you death: the permanent and irrevocable death of the Scottish Labour party.

    If Scottish Labour has a future it has to be on the left. Currently, Labour is outflanked on the left by both the SNP and the Greens; if you appoint Jim Murphy as your leader you'll be outflanked on the left by Ruth Davidson's Conservatives, and that is not a tenable stance for the Labour Party.

    Yes, I know the Labour Party in England believe that they cannot afford to move left. I think they're wrong there too, but it's irrelevant to my point. Scottish Labour depends for its votes on the urban poor, and they won't vote for Murphy.

    The other thing to say - and like you I think Swinney deserves more of the credit for this than he gets - is that in office the SNP have been ruthlessly competent and ruthlessly disciplined. There have been no scandals, no expenses abuses, no public in-fighting. I agree that with their policies on the monarchy and on NATO they've swung right (but Labour left them clear blue water in which to do that); I agree that their policies on oil and on fisheries in particular are unsustainable, and their track record on tackling abuses of power in Scotland (for example on land reform) is very poor. But what the electorate see is good, competent, consistent administration which has made a fairly good fist of protecting Scotland from the austerity imposed by Osborne and supported by Balls.

    I know that I shall vote against the SNP in 2016. I'm not yet sure who I will vote for: it will be a party of the left, and it will almost certainly be a republican, pro-independence party of the left. But in saying that I also know that the SNP will win that election, and that the SNP will deserve to. Because while the SNP have been running their quietly competent administration, Jim Murphy and his cronies at Westminster have been running up their expenses while abstaining on key votes like the bedroom tax. And that's why I shall be voting for the SNP in 2015.

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    1. i think you put too much faith in independence (i read your draft smith commission post.) The first thing is, the "differences" in opinion of Eng and Scot are overblown. even if they were real, that isn't an excuse to break up the UK. Secondly, the SNP is competent, but not angelic. Kenny MacCasskil's tenor in Justice almost cost him his post, only protected by the SNP majority. Alex Neil faced the same with mismanagement of the NHS.

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